Two cases from the Society’s legal department: on line violence and presidential immunity
By Joe America
I find legal documents in the Philippines to be enlightening. For one thing, I can read the arguments from the people involved rather than as filtered through mass media, the State’s troll armies, or other biased or unreliable sources.
Here are two cases I found pertinent because they involve how to deal with the ease of insult that appears to have entered the Philippine social mainstream as common and even accepted abuse.
- Senator Hontiveros’ proposed new legislation: An act defining gender-based electronic violence, providing protective measures and prescribing penalties therefor, and for other purposes.
- Senator De Lima’s Supreme Court filing against President Duterte seeking remedies for the President’s abusive acts and threats against the Senator.
Both of these cases address situations in which a person is viciously attacked either verbally or on-line.
Is the nation civil or not, decent or not, abusive or not? Can civility be legislated or mandated by the courts?
Senator Hontiveros’ legislation
Here is the rationale for the proposed act, in the Senator’s own words:
Misogynistic and homophobic attacks on social media are examples of gender-based electronic violence. Many of the victims are young people, who use social media as their primary outlet of expression. These attacks have the effect of silencing this expression, and contributing to a culture of misogyny and hate. [Link to the Senator’s full explanation, one page total]
So the battlefield is free speech. Those who argue against the bill are likely to say it inhibits free speech and proponents will argue the abuse limits free speech and other human rights. Plus there are gender concerns, as recited in the proposed legislation:
It is the policy of the State to value the dignity of every human person and guarantee full respect for human rights. It is likewise the policy of the state to recognize the role of women in nation-building and ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men. [Link to the proposed act, 2 pages total]
The bill defines “gender-based electronic violence” and cites five specific forms, which I state briefly here in my own words:
- Unauthorized videos showing the victim’s private parts
- Sharing of pictures, voice or video of the victim that has lewd or sexual content.
- Harassing the victim with indecent, misogynistic or homophobic messages.
- Cyber-stalking, including the use of location trackers on cellular devices.
- Unauthorized use of the victim’s identity or private information which exposes the victim to harassment or injures the victim’s reputation.
Remedies include a protection order and relief, to include:
The penalty of imprisonment of not less than three (5) years but not more than ten (10) years and a fine of not less than One hundred thousand pesos (P100,000.00) but not more than Five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00), or both, at the discretion of the court . . .
Two implications that I can think of is that the “yellows” would no longer be able to show the photo of Mocha Uson with her hand down a guy’s pants, and anyone who revealed Joe America’s real identity would be in a boatload of trouble. There is a lot to discuss about this brief bill, but I will leave that to you, should you be so inclined.
Senator De Lima’s filing against President Duterte [De Lima court filing, pdf, 9mb,26 pages]
This is a very hard-hitting petition from the Senator that takes the following logic:
- The president, in his official capacity, does not have authority to harass and threaten citizens.
- Furthermore, the President has harassed and threatened Senator De Lima, to her harm.
- Because his acts are PERSONAL and not official, he has no immunity from suit.
The document presents an exhaustive recitation of the incidents in which the President has harassed or threatened the Senator, recites laws violated by the President, and shows that the behavior is not in the scope of his protected official duties. If you are not inclined to wade through the whole filing, I do suggest you at least flip to page 17 and read Sections 30 through 33. That will give you an idea of the tenor of the document and the approach being taken in the arguments.
The plea does not seek civil or criminal penalties, but does seek to cure abuses as follows:
- Enjoins the President and his staff from collecting private information about the Senator
- Requires the President to name the foreign country that enabled his staff to eavesdrop on the Senator.
- Orders the destruction of data improperly collected.
- Enjoins the President and his staff from making further statements that malign, threaten, or violate the Senator’s rights
The engagement of a foreign country to “spy” on a senator seems like a big deal to me. The US? China? Russia? It is not just the Senator’s inquiring mind that wants to know.
It also seems to me that any legal decisions forthcoming regarding allegations against the Senator about drugs or any other matter are so tainted by law violations that it will be difficult to make any charge stick. This case could give her virtual immunity if she wins it.
The political biases of the Supreme Court justices may also come into play. If she loses the case then the President can continue abusive practices, and his staff, and the Philippines will be an abusive place.
I personally hope both the proposed legislation and court filings prosper. For sure we are seeing a lot of chilling threats on line, and we can witness State activities that seem to be leading the nation to incivility (EJKs; troll armies if they are disseminating lies or abusive messages; the President’s language and threats). If decency and respect for human rights cannot be achieved by government officials and citizens taking responsibility for their own acts, then laws and court engagement are needed.
This all presumes Filipino citizens consider civility to be a virtue . . . I’m not sure on the point . . .